Both houses of Congress just endorsed marijuana research. Can they agree on a bill?

Jonathan D. Salant (TNS)

Less than two weeks after the U.S. Senate voted to expand research into cannabis, the U.S. House passed its own, more expansive legislation that also proposed to study weed as more and more states legalize its use.

But it remains to be seen if the two bills are close enough that both chambers will be able to draft a final bill that can clear Congress.

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“Now that each chamber of Congress has passed competing cannabis research bills, there is a real prospect that compromise could be made to produce a bill that would allow scientists access to the types of cannabis that people actually consume,” said Justin Strekal, a long-time advocate of legal weed who now runs a pro-cannabis political action committee.

”Frankly, it is troubling that lawmakers keep trying to treat marijuana as if it is plutonium but nevertheless, by slightly loosing research restrictions, it would be a step in the right direction of ending prohibition and criminalization outright.”

The Medical Marijuana Research Act, which passed the House Monday by 343-75, would allow researchers to obtain cannabis samples from states that have legalized the drug, rather have the University of Mississippi as the only federally approved source of weed.

Only two Pennsylvania lawmakers — Republican Reps. John Joyce and Scott Perry — voted against the measure.

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The House passed a similar bill in December 2020, leaving no time for negotiations with the Senate. Now there will be time.

And there’s a Senate bill to discuss as well. The chamber last month unanimously approved the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act.

The Senate measure would expand research into cannabis to see if there were any medical benefits to the drug and its compounds, including cannabidiol, and woujd require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health to report to Congress on the potential benefits or harms associated with cannabis.

“America’s growing cannabis industry operates without the benefit of a robust research program,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D- Ore., co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “I am prepared to work with my friends in the Senate to reconcile differences” between both bills.

Science magazine reported in August 2020 that the federal government spent more than $1 billion on research from 2000 to 2018, but most of the funding went for studies on the misuse and negative effects of cannabis rather than research into its medical properties.

“Cannabis has a wide range of therapeutic applications, but researchers have consistently faced significant roadblocks to conducting studies,” said Steven Hawkins, chief executive of the U.S. Cannabis Council.

“Historically, federal policy has severely restricted researchers’ access to cannabis. Lack of supply, along with onerous restrictions, has held back cannabis research for years.”

Separately, the U.S. House last week passed legislation ending the federal ban on cannabis and taxing the drug to help communities and individuals hardest hit by the war on drugs. The Senate is drafting its own version and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said lawmakers hoped to introduce it by the end of the month.